Setting the record straight on Goldstone

Contrary to the widely held speculation that his op-ed represents an epiphany, the article marks a continuation of a consistent pattern.

Goldstone 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Goldstone 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a strong critic of the Goldstone Report, I am both fascinated and dismayed by the amount of speculation – presented as fact in the media – surrounding the now-famous Washington Post op-ed by Judge Richard Goldstone published last Friday.
It is also disappointing to observe the disproportionate amount of conjecture about, and attacks on, Goldstone the man, compared with the paucity of discussion about the actual content of the report and the faulty methodology used in preparing it.
Those who claim that Goldstone retracted his report in the Washington Post article, or expressed regret at having been responsible for it, have obviously not read the op-ed. The only regret he expressed was that the factfinding mission did not originally have evidence, which has since come to light, explaining the circumstances that led his mission to conclude that civilians in Gaza were targeted by the IDF. This information, he wrote, would probably have influenced the findings about intent and war crimes.
The main issue in the op-ed related to the killing of 29 members of the al-Samouni family.
Goldstone wrote that new information showed that the shelling of their home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, thus negating the charge that civilians were intentionally targeted.
A Jerusalem Post report on April 6 titled “Goldstone critics ponder their roles in aboutface” is a good example of uninformed reporting stated as fact. It creates the impression that Goldstone was coerced into disclosing this new information in the op-ed as a result of facts presented to him at a debate at Stanford University on March 28. But this conflicts with the facts.
On March 9, well before the Stanford debate, Goldstone addressed an annual dinner of the Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association during which he dealt at length with what he described as the single most serious incident of Operation Cast Lead – the shelling of the al-Samouni home.
He said that according to evidence given by family members, several men had gone outside to gather firewood and as they returned, projectiles were fired, killing 29 members of the family. The crucial consideration was that the men, women and children were known to be civilians, who had been ordered by the IDF to relocate to the house and that the family had regarded the presence of the IDF as a guarantee of its safety. It led the mission to conclude that, as a probability, the attack on the al-Samouni family was deliberate.
Subsequent reports, however, indicated that the attack was precipitated by drone photographs in which the firewood carried by the men looked like rocket launchers and that, consequently, the incident was not a deliberate attack on civilians. Goldstone added that he considered it a great pity that the Israeli government did not provide the mission with its own version of the events.
HAVING BEEN in regular contact with Goldstone since the start of the UN Gaza Mission, my impression is that, contrary to the widely held speculation that his op-ed represents a sudden epiphany, the article merely expresses a continuation of a consistent pattern of the man re-evaluating his opinion as, and when, new information becomes available.
The following anecdote may help illustrate my point. In November 2009, while delivering a lecture at Yale University, three obviously observant Jews walked into the hall and unfurled a poster that read “Protocols of the Elders of Zion – Dreyfus – Goldstone.” At the reception that followed, Goldstone was approached by one of the three who asked him: “How would you feel if all the allegations made against Israel in your report were proven to be incorrect?” He looked surprised when Goldstone responded: “I would rejoice.”
Months later, the judge received an email from the man who turned out to be a Chabad rabbi and with whom a firm friendship has since developed. Goldstone says there are many issues relating to the Middle East on which they disagree strongly but which they discuss respectfully and sometimes intensely.
Their friendship is based not on those differences but on a common love for our people and for the State of Israel, Goldstone said, adding that he deeply values and respects this friendship. The lesson is that the Jewish tradition is to debate differences rather than to dismiss them or allow them to degenerate into personal ad hominem attacks, according to Goldstone.
Another example of the judge revising his opinion based on changed circumstances occurred during a panel discussion at Stanford University last January, when he courageously contradicted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who had denied that the Human Rights Council unfairly targets Israel, although it has issued 35 resolutions condemning the Jewish state since 2006 and only 15 on all other countries in the same period.
He also courageously stated publicly that “to their shame,” a majority of HRC members refused to establish a mission to investigate crimes likely to have been committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka. He said that this indefensible lack of action by the HRC “fueled the long-standing and repeated complaints by Israel that the Human Rights Council and the UN in general are biased against it. They repeatedly rush to pass condemnatory resolutions in the face of alleged violations of human rights law by Israel, but fail to take similar action in the face of even more serious violations by other states. Until the Gaza Report, they failed to condemn the firing of rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian centers.”
IN DEALING with the public statement several months ago by Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad, who quoted figures of combatant casualties in Operation Cast Lead that roughly matched the 709 claimed by the government, Goldstone said that Israel assumed that the 250 Hamas police officers who were killed on the first day were combatants and that, if in fact, they were members of the Hamas military wing, then contrary to the conclusions in the report, the number of combatants killed would be similar to the number claimed by Israel.
These and other public statements by Goldstone that were either missed or intentionally ignored by the media, preceded the Washington Post op-ed. I believe we can expect Judge Goldstone to make more such statements, including an outright, unambiguous condemnation of incitement in the Arab world, which is a major impediment to peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbors.
The writer is a commentator on current affairs. His website is; a special reference to the Goldstone Report can be found at